A Civil War Battle of the Books and the Battle for Washington DC

March 18, 2011

For the third year in a row, GPO is doing its own version of the NCAA basketball playoffs. This year’s theme, appropriately enough, given that GPO opened for business shortly before Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, is the Civil War. Since I’m a minor Civil War buff myself, I’ve blogged about several of the “competitors,” including Clara Barton: Clara Barton National Historic Site, Battle of Ball’s Bluff and, just a week or so ago, Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness.

A couple of the books in this year’s tournament are National Park Service Cultural Resources Studies, which are detailed assessments of a particular park’s history, cultural landscape, and historical materials. Monocacy National Battlefield: Cultural Resources Study is meaningful to me because I’ve visited that Maryland park a number of times over the years, beginning when it first opened to the public. As a GPO employee, references to Jubal Early’s 1864 raid, which actually penetrated as far as Fort Stevens in Northwest Washington, DC, remind me that GPO employees actually were mustered into service for a day or two to help defend the city. If Early’s force had arrived a day earlier, it could have been a disaster for the Union, but the hastily assembled force at Monocacy commanded by General Lew Wallace provided just enough delay to ensure the safety of the capital. Wallace, who was criticized, not altogether fairly, for his generalship at Shiloh in 1862, was credited by General Grant for blocking Early at Monocacy. Later, Wallace had the last laugh by writing what is arguably one of the bestselling novels of his century – Ben Hur. To add to his fame, during his post-war career as governor of the New Mexico Territory, Wallace met Billy the Kid, which ensured his regular appearance in movies and TV westerns – giving him a great deal more fame than many more successful Civil War generals.

Monocacy is also a beautiful park, with a walking trail near the Monocacy River and a neat little visitor’s center. Now that spring is on the way, I’m ready to walk those trails again. You can read more about the park itself here, browse the cultural resources study here, or get your own copy via GPO. The study is also available in libraries.

Above all, don’t forget to vote for your favorites at the Civil War Super 16 Tournament. After 150 years, it’s time for a rematch!

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